This blog is part of a series on Spiritual Direction designed to answer questions about the practice of Spiritual Direction. Click here to see the full FAQ series.
What IS spiritual direction; Do you just tell me what to do? Will you just answer all my questions about faith and God? Do I just ask you all my big questions and you tell me the answers or tell me how to find the answers? Do you share your faith experience with me and guide me along the same path? Do you make me believe what you believe? Do we need to have the same theological background or belong to the same church?
During a conversation with a friend at a retreat, she shared with me that upon speaking with someone about the practice of spiritual direction, the initial image conjured in the mind of the other person as the words of ‘spiritual director’ was of someone sitting on top of a mountain, meditating, offering ‘words of wisdom’ to people from their wise state of being…
With this kind of image coming to mind, it’s no surprise spiritual directors spend a lot of their time educating people about what spiritual direction is and breaking apart the common misconceptions of what this beautiful practice really is all about.
Before we break down some of the common misconceptions, let’s find a baseline of what spiritual direction is from a few quotes I love:
“Spiritual direction is about listening to people’s stories, listening for glimpses of grace and hints of the holy, listening for the breakthrough presence of God in the midst of ordinary life.” – Sue Pickering from Spiritual Direction: A Practical Introduction.
“In Spiritual Direction we help directees notice the signposts on the way, and make choices at a crossroads. We sit with them, tending to the bonfire, when they are stuck; we celebrate with ‘arrivals’ of some sort, offer a chance of rest and refreshment, and encourage them when God interrupts their complacency and invites them out on the road again.”
– Sue Pickering from Spiritual Direction: A Practical Introduction.
“Spiritual direction is a way of companioning people as they seek to look closely, through the eyes of their hearts, at the guidance and transforming work of God in their lives. It’s… the ministry of spiritual companionship.”
– Alice Fryling from Seeking God Together
From reading those quotes, we can already begin to see how spiritual direction doesn’t line up with the ‘wise, mountaintop guide’ image, so let’s look at some of the common misconceptions posed as curious questions and provide some clarity.
- Do you just tell me what to do?
- This is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about spiritual direction based most often on the name of the practice being ‘direction’ and the title of the facilitator as ‘director’. Contrary to the words direction and director, a session does not unfold with the directee sharing their situation, followed by the director telling you what to do. Perhaps, a more accurate title is ‘spiritual companionship’ with a trained ‘spiritual companion’. As a spiritual companion, the director listens fully to you and the Spirit, then asks contemplative and provocative questions to guide you into deeper awareness and reflection about your experience. The only time a director may ‘tell you what to do’ would be in the form of offering prompts for prayer, questions, or inviting you into a spiritual practice. This is coming from a space of consent and invitation. There is no ‘just do this’ answer to your unique lived experience and relationship with God.
- Will you just answer all my questions about faith and God?
- Since the foundation of the practice is exploration of the directees experience and relationship with God, questions about faith and God are often met with questions to help you explore your heart beneath the question; how would an answer impact your relationship with God? What does this question reveal about your own desires?
- Do I just ask you all my big questions and you tell me the answers or tell me how to find the answers?
- The answer above is relevant to this question, too! If you ask questions that are big and meaningful to you, the director will hold compassionate space for you to explore the depth behind the question. Sometimes, at the end of a session, a director may ask if you’d like a recommendation of a book or resource they enjoyed. It is completely up to the directee if they’d like the suggestion and they are under no obligation to follow through.
- Do you share your faith experience with me and guide me along the same path?
- Remember when we used the phrase, ‘spiritual companion’ above? In spiritual direction, the director is your companion as the directee. I like thinking of an analogy offered in a book on spiritual direction that talks about the practice of spiritual direction as tending a fire. The directee is walking down the paths of life and they come to a spacious clearing. A fire is being tended by the director who offers you a safe space to rest and find reprieve. As you share about your journey, the director asks questions to help you explore deeper. The director may notice themes or things that ‘shimmer’ as guided by the Spirit, and they may say ‘hey, let’s talk about this more’. When the session is over, it’s your time to venture back on your path of faith. Next month, when you meet with your director, the fire is roaring, the tea is warm, and we are ready to hold space for your experiences and relationship with God. We acknowledge that everyone’s path is different; we all have different experiences, different backgrounds, different spiritual temperaments, and different relationships that create our own individual lived experiences. A director holds space for you and your experience and generally does not share their own experience or encourage you along their same path.
- Does the director give me advice from their own experience?
- Similar to above, a director holds space for you on your own journey. A spiritual director does not offer advice from their own lived experience.
- Do you make me believe what you believe?
- In spiritual direction, we make what we would call a few ‘theological assumptions’ that form the foundation of this practice and bring it to life for both the director and directee. We believe that God is present with us, we believe the Spirit connects with us through our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences and that we can connect to the Spirit, we believe that we all have equal access to God (ie, the director doesn’t have special access but that both parties listen to the Spirit), we believe that God loves us and desires intimacy with us, we believe in the great Mystery of God (that we can’t possibly know everything there is to know). These points are often common ground between director and directee. Often, a directee finds a director they feel they share some beliefs or experiences with, making the directee feel safe to share. This was the case when I found a director who also loved Jesus and taught yoga. A director will not force beliefs on you.
- Do we need to have the same theological background or belong to the same church?
- The numbers vary, but a quick google search of ‘how many christian denominations are there around the world?’ gives you some big numbers. Often, a spiritual director is trained to hold space for people across the Christian faith tradition, meaning you do not have to belong to the same church, community, or denomination. As a director, I’ve held space for those who belong to denominations such as Catholic, and those who would identify as Non-Denominational. It’s really about finding a director you feel comfortable with. You may find comfort in seeing a spiritual director who is part of your community, or you may prefer going outside of your church. It’s up to you!
Once you begin meeting with a spiritual director and experiencing a session (see What is a Session of Spiritual Direction like?), you’ll being to see how your own misconceptions about this practice fall away to reveal a soul nourishing practice that allows you a safe space to authentically explore your faith and relationship with God in new ways that deepen this relationship and grow intimacy.
If you think spiritual direction might be for you, click here to book a meet + greet and we can chat about spiritual direction, I can answer any questions you have, and we can see if we would make a great fit.